It is not great strength or great wealth that Christ calls for in His Church on the eve of His coming. It is great faithfulness to Him and great obedience to His will and to the opportunities He gives us.
In writing to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13), Christ had nothing except commendation and the announcement of preservation from the period of calamity and trial which is coming to the whole earth. Let us look at why this church merited Christ�s commendation and reward.
Philadelphia was a church like the other churches of the time, existing in the midst of the corruption of paganism, and surrounded by forces which perpetually threatened to overwhelm these assemblies gathered around the risen One. To it, however, the Lord comes, announcing Himself in all the kingly majesty of actual administration:
"These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name" (Rev. 3:7-8).
It is as though the Lord had said, "I set before you a door opened, which none could shut, and I know your works; you had a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name." He opened the door in front of them, and they passed through it and filled the opportunity. He opened the door, and they, though having but little power, were yet true to His word, and loyal to His name. It is evident then that the commendation must be considered wholly in the light of the statement concerning the open door.
What this open door was locally, it is impossible to state. We cannot go back and examine in detail the opportunity which the Lord gave the church. In all probability, however, it was some special opening for missionary enterprise. There is almost certainly a connection between the announcement of the kingly character of Christ and His opening of the door. It is "He that hath the key of David," which is the insignia of kingship, who has opened the door, and the suggestion is that of a passport given to His dominions for the transaction of His business.
The key opens the territory of the king.
He who held the key had set before the church a door opened. He had given them entrance to some other of His dominions for the transaction of His business. The opening of the door is the king�s governmental preparation of the pathway along which His messengers are to run to do His biddings, to herald His Gospel, to win His dominion for Himself. The opening of the door is the exercise of His executive right.
Turn for a moment from the immediate and local application of these words. Let us think of them as the statement of a great principle. How wondrously in every successive century has the King opened the doors before His Church.
In spite of human opposition, and human hatred, He has unlocked and flung wide open the doors of opportunity before His faithful people.
What the particular opening for the church at Philadelphia was, we have no means of knowing. The fact of value revealed is that there came to a church which was neither great nor strong, an opportunity which the church recognized and filled.
But who are these that enter through the open door?
Mark well His description. Jesus did not say to this church at Philadelphia, "Thou art strong," but, "Thou hast a little power."
But they were faithful to the opportunity in that they kept His word and did not deny His name. That is the true principle of success in Christian service.
The greatest rewards that will ever come to churches or to men will be bestowed, not according to the greatness of the strength they had, or the greatness of the opportunity as it appeared to men � but according to fidelity to opportunity, and full use of the measure of strength possessed.
The measure of strength was small, but entering the open door the church made use of all in loyalty to His word, and in maintaining the honor of His name. In this twofold statement there is a revelation of the secret of success in all service � the keeping of the word and loyalty to the name.
It is infinitely better to have a little power, and use it within the doors He opens in loyalty to His teaching and Himself � than to have much power and use it as aiding the work of those who, robbing Him of His dignity, hinder His coming into His kingdom.
To the church at Philadelphia He says, "Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (3:10).
"I Come Quickly"
In these words the Lord does for the church at Philadelphia what He has done for the Church again and again. He directs their attention to His second coming as the goal and crisis of victory. Through all the years of service the Church should ever wait for Him, hearing constantly the sound of His voice � "I come quickly!" (3:11).
In view of that promise, consider the Master�s declaration of the present responsibility of the Church. "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown" (3:11). To the church at Sardis He said the same thing (3:3), and yet how different the value and application of the announcement. To Sardis it was a warning. To these at Philadelphia, it is a promise.
To the church that was dead (Sardis), it was a proclamation, calculated to startle them into obedience. To the church exercising its little strength in fulfillment of His gracious will, it was a declaration calculated to comfort them in obedience.
It is evident that the doctrine of the advent of Jesus affects persons according to the condition of their life. One church is threatened; another is comforted by the announcement of His coming.
In a little while that lies between the present moment and His coming, He marks their responsibility in the words, "Hold fast that which thou hast." What had they? A little power, His word, His name, His promise of return. These they were to hold fast, and the reason � "that no one take thy crown."
The crown referred to was that of reward for service. He had opened the door. They in little power had entered in and had fulfilled His will. He knew their works, that they had kept His word and did not deny His name. He had no complaint to make of them. He Himself was coming, and at His coming they would have their crowning. Not the crowning but the conflict is for today, but so surely as the conflict is maintained, and the things now possessed held fast, the crowning must come!
To Him Who Overcomes
Then lastly notice His promise to the overcomer. "He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name" (3:12).
The overcoming referred to in this case is not that of some evil in the church, but of the forces which are outside, and these will be finally overcome at His advent. As He has been speaking of that coming as the crisis at which all the rewards He promises will be bestowed upon the church, His promise to the overcomer is here that of those conditions of life to which they shall pass beyond that advent.
First He promises them position: "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God." That is finality. The Bible does not speak of men as being pillars in His temple while on earth. Yonder they will have a position conspicuous and abiding, based upon the fact of their resemblance to the character of God.
Then secondly: "I will write upon him the name of My God," this indicating the fact of likeness, and the reason of the position of prominence.
And yet again, a definite and specific reward: "I will write upon him�the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God."
Those who have the right within that city, of permanent dwelling upon the basis of character, are not to be there as foreigners or aliens, but as those who have the city�s freedom, that freedom being the recognition of their overcoming.
And yet once more: "I will write upon him�Mine own new name."
What strange and mystical statement is this?
In the nineteenth chapter of this book of Revelation there is another reference to it. "He hath a name written, which no one knoweth but He Himself" (v. 12). There are yet honors for Jesus unrevealed, and these are signified in that new name.
This then is the name that He will write upon the overcomer. He will share with him all His honors and rewards. There is to be the most perfect oneness between the overcomer and the King. To suffer with Him will be to reign with Him over all the territory. To enter the door He opens today is to walk with Him in all the spacious realms over which He yet must reign.
Christ Reigns Even Now
Our crowning may depend on our fidelity, but God�s ultimate victory depends upon the King whom He has set on His holy hill. Let there be no moment in which we imagine that He has either lost ground, or abandoned any part of the territory committed to Him. He cannot fail nor be discouraged till He has accomplished the uttermost purpose of His God, and though at times our eyes may fail to trace the method of His administration, let our hearts be ever comforted by remembering "He� openeth, and none shall shut, and He shutteth and none openeth."
If we are not able to see how He opens or how He shuts, it matters little. The fact is full of infinite and inexpressible comfort. God�s anointed King, though for a time hidden from the eyes of men, is carrying on His government. As of old, David the anointed king of Israel was for a time exiled from his kingdom, and took refuge in the cave of Adullam, so for today Christ is earth�s rejected King, but He is still God�s anointed King.
The story of Adullam is full of significance. David, refused by his people, went up to the stronghold in the mountains, and there three classes of people gathered round him � men in debt, men in distress, and men that were discontented (1 Sam. 22:1-2). They were not of much account in the eyes of the nation. In all probability it was looked upon as a happy exodus when they left for the cave.
And yet how wonderful the story of their relation to David, and its results. Contact with him turned them into mighty men. The story of David and his mighty men is indeed a romance. The raw material was surely as poor as ever gathered to a man, but the finished product there has seldom been anything finer.
In process of time the glad day dawned when David left Adullam, and came to his crowning. Concerning that crowning a statement full of significance is made: "All these men�came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king" (1 Chron. 12:38).
"Our Lord is now rejected,
And by the world disowned,
By the many still neglected,
And by the few enthroned."
But He is gathering to Himself a company of people in debt, in distress, and discontented, and those who have thus gathered to Him in the days of His rejection are by that contact and comradeship being transformed into His mighty men. Soon the morning will break when we shall gather with one heart to make Jesus King!
Oh, take heart!
Let there be fewer dirges sung in the sanctuary, and more paeans of praise. Let us be done with the lamentations of hope deferred � and putting on our garments of beauty, rise from the dust, and believe in our King. He at this moment holds the reins, and swaying the scepter, administers the affairs of the Kingdom of God!
Such is the comfort to be gathered from this epistle.
Then there follows a solemn word, marking our responsibility: "Hold fast that which thou hast."
Opposition is not over; Satan still has a synagogue. Open doors � and never had the Church such open doors as she has at this moment � open doors do not make strenuous fidelity unnecessary, but more than ever necessary. The Master is unlocking the doors all around, but the Church is not entering them as she should. Blindness to the fact is most utter folly.
The Church should stand ready before every door, so that the moment it is open, she may occupy the territory for Christ. When will those who conduct the commerce of heaven, manifest the same wisdom as that of the merchant princes of the earth?
If the Church is thus to be ready and responsive to the call of the King she must hold fast His word, and not deny His name.
Alas, that we have too often allowed things essential to be neglected, while we have been dealing with things of minor or of no importance.
Back to the Word of God!
Back to the Name of Jesus!
Then will the Church be what God intends she should be �
"fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners" (Song 6:10).
The test of the Church�s loyalty to Christ is not the measure of her manifestation before men, but her fidelity to the opportunity her Lord creates.
Infinitely better to have a little power only � all used for Christ � than much strength bestowed in other ways.
If He has opened the door, then let us go through in all the strength we possess, remembering that our all, with the all of all the rest � shall make His all, that is, "the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession" (Psa. 2:8)
Condensed from A First-Century Message To Twentieth-Century Christians by G. Campbell Morgan. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) authored many books and commentaries and ministered in Britain, Canada and U.S.A. as a pastor and itinerant evangelist.